Predictors of Somatic Symptom Severity: The Role of Cumulative History of Trauma and Adversity in a Diverse Community Sample

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Abstract

Objective: Somatic symptoms are often reported among victims of trauma, and place a significant burden on primary care health providers. We examined the relationship between lifetime histories of trauma and adversity, including aspects not previously studied (i.e., perceived discrimination), and somatic symptoms, as well as the mediating role of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and depressive symptoms. Method: A multiethnic community sample of 500 male and female participants (230 African American and 270 Latino) completed measures of demographic characteristics, the University of California, Los Angeles Lifetime Adversities Screener (LADS), depressive symptoms, PTSS, and somatic symptoms. Results: An ordinary least-squares regression analysis controlling for age, gender, and race/ethnicity indicated that higher levels of lifetime adversity and trauma were significantly associated with more severe somatic symptoms (b = 6.95, p < .0001). Formal mediation tests indicated that there was a significant indirect effect of LADS on somatic symptoms via PTSS and depressive symptoms, indirect effect = 2.64 (95% confidence interval [CI] [1.2, 4.1]) and 2.19 (95% CI [1.3, 3.3]), respectively. Even after PTSS and depressive symptoms were taken into account, the LADS remained significantly associated with somatic symptoms (b = 2.13, p < .05), suggesting partial mediation. Conclusion: Exposure to traumatic and adverse events (the LADS) was associated with somatic symptom severity. Furthermore, although PTSS and depressive symptoms partially accounted for the association between the LADS and somatic symptoms, the LADS remained significant, suggesting that both exposure to trauma and adversity and the resultant development of PTSS and depressive symptoms influence the development of somatic symptoms.

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